Reviewed: May 31, 2006
Released: May 9, 2006
Over the Hedge is the inevitable DS game released to accompany Dreamworks’ latest computer animated motion picture of the same name – which follows the exploits of a group of wildlife animals whose environment is suddenly encroached upon by neighboring suburbia, and the measures they take to fend off the approaching humans.
Games made from movies are a dime a dozen - but where Over the Hedge differs from the standard movie-to-game conversion is that it is actually a pretty darn impressive game, at least for what you’d anticipate.
Expecting to receive the standard 2D side-scrolling fare that often comes from the cookie-cutter conversions, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Over the Hedge is actually a fully 3D adventure platformer along the lines of Super Mario 64 DS.
Allowing the gamer to control any one of a number of the wildlife characters – exploiting the unique strengths in each – Over the Hedge pits players up against the humans and tasks them to a series of fetch-type quests – first collecting food, then books and other objects.
While I generally shudder at these type of fetching missions, Over the Hedge actually does a fairly impressive job with incorporating each animal’s particular strengths into the gameplay – requiring the use of the scampy little raccoon to sneak around sensitive choke points, or the turtle to lift and carry heavy objects. Characters can be switched on the fly with a quick tap of the DS touch screen and the overall gameplay is really more a skills-based adventure game than some simple hop ‘n bop platformer one would expect from a licensed movie conversion.
The only real knocks would have to be with the controls, which tend to be a bit overly twitchy at times – often leading to a bit of nausea inducing overcorrection and camera swings. Also, the occasional bad collision detection, which will leave a character completing the lengthy item-lifting animation, yet when all is said and done, leaving the object untouched on the ground.
The characters also move quite slowly relative to the scope of the levels, especially when carrying objects – which is a very common occurrence in the game. I know this is mostly an issue with the perception of overall size and scope, and I even expect it with some of the slower animals (Verne the Turtle) but I still wish some of the spryer animals (i.e. RJ the Raccoon or Hammy the Squirrel) traveled a bit faster when necessary.
The game features the requisite story mode following the structure of the film, as well as a handful of collection-based multiplayer games. Most of the goals involve some form of food collection or human sabotaging, and although the requirements tend to get a bit monotonous at times, the overall quality of the presentation – especially when considering the handheld medium it is being played on – helps make up for any shortcomings.
The game takes a behind-the-character third-person approach, that successfully delivers an powerful sense of the size and scope that these critters see from their point of view. However, aside from the awkward stop-and-look function, the camera always stays locked behind the character with no real way to change the view angle. Not being able to make camera adjustments on the fly makes exploration a bit clunkier than it should be, and looking up or down is pretty much impossible.
The 3D graphics that the game engine pumps out are really quite impressive for the DS – and while the levels might be a bit sparsely populated overall, the objects in the game are every bit as (if not more) detailed than other benchmark-setting titles like Super Mario 64 DS.
The touch-sensitive menus are bright and poppy, and really give an overall feeling of whimsy to the proceedings. I never felt lost in the menus (unlike in the GBA version of the game), and being able to quickly tap yourself through the four save/load slots was a nice touch.
And finally, the cutscenes are incredibly well done – so well in fact that it was hard to distinguish whether they were cut and compressed straight from the movie, or made exclusively for the game using the in-game engine. After extended play, my leanings are toward the latter. As far as cutscenes are concerned, Over the Hedge – with its picture-perfect display and accompanying voices and sounds – is hands-down one of the best offerings for the DS.
As with the cutscene visuals, the sound quality is top-notch and difficult to distinguish whether or not the actual movie actors are supplying the voices.
The in game effects are a bit sparse and generic sounding, but overall quite acceptable and get the job done.
Over the Hedge holds about a half-dozen or so hours of fun on the DS – that is if you whip through it willy-nilly. If you plan on collecting all of the items in the levels, it will add even more. Bearing in mind this is a handheld title – six hours is nothing to shake a stick at. And considering that the overall gameplay hinges a bit more on the skills-based, you can come back and play the game a second time and have almost as much fun as the first.
As one of the few genuinely impressive movie-to-game conversions, Over the Hedge smacks of the old PlayStation and N64 Toy Story adventure games of yore – with top-notch presentation, killer graphics and solid gameplay throughout.
All said, Over the Hedge may not necessarily offer anything new to the genre, but it is definitely a solid game and a real tribute to the film.